Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

Artistic Freedom Under Siege: New Report Exposes the CCP’s Widespread Censorship and Oppression of Falun Gong, Shen Yun

Alina Wang
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights, politics, tech, and society.
Published: January 9, 2024
Falun Gong practitioners and supporters hold pictures of victims who were persecuted by the Chinese government as they take part in an annual rally and demonstration at the National Mall July 16, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Image: Alex Wong via Getty Images)

A new policy brief released by the Falun Dafa Information Center reveals an aggressive and comprehensive campaign by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to silence and malign Shen Yun Performing Arts — a U.S.-based non-profit and widely acclaimed performing arts company.

Shen Yun is run by adherents of Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese spiritual disciple that is subject to brutal human rights abuses in its native country.  

The Jan. 8 report, titled “Diplomatic Disruptions and Disinformation: Beijing’s Global Drive to Stop Shen Yun,” details the most extensive global effort of Beijing-driven artistic censorship to date. The campaign, which forms a crucial part of the CCP’s wider transnational repression targeting Falun Gong practitioners and other prisoners of conscience, aims to shed light on the many strategies used to undermine and discredit Shen Yun and its supporters. 

‘Targeted crackdown’

According to the brief, more than 130 incidents of harassment, sabotage, disinformation, and physical attacks have been perpetrated by Chinese officials or their proxies against Shen Yun in 38 countries — including in the U.S., since 2007. 

Shen Yun Performing Arts is the world’s premier classical Chinese dance and music performance, bringing to life 5,000 years of traditional Chinese culture and heritage to audiences across the globe. (Image: Shen Yun Performing Arts)

Internal party documents unearthed in the report expose directives from the highest levels of the CCP’s central authorities, categorizing the suppression of Shen Yun as an “important part of the struggle against Falun Gong.” The documents also revealed how lower-tier security officials are instructed to conduct “targeted crackdowns” on the group.

MORE ON THIS: China’s ‘Global Police State’: New Report Unravels the CCP’s Transnational Repression and Its Impact on US National Security

Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, is a traditional Chinese spiritual practice centered on meditation exercises and moral improvement. It gained tens of millions of adherents in the 1990s, but was banned by the CCP in July 1999 and subject to a deadly persecution campaign. Since then, thousands of Falun Gong adherents are confirmed to have perished at the hands of the Chinese authorities — with the real number of deaths believed to be far higher.

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners meditate through body movements to mark the 10th anniversary of the practice being outlawed in China on July 17, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Image: TIM SLOAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Central to the CCP’s sabotage campaign against Falun Gong and Shen Yun lie in personnel acting as CCP agents or spies based out of People’s Republic of China (PRC) embassies and consulates on a global scale, the report notes. 

These agents have been known to employ tactics such as disinformation, economic coercion, and threats to dissuade local theaters and governments from hosting Shen Yun performances. Of the 135 documented incidents of interference, 81 showcase the expansive and centrally directed nature of Beijing’s campaign to censor and oppress artistic groups and freedom of expression outside of China. 

‘Destroying China’s traditional culture’

Levi Browde, executive director of the Falun Dafa Information Center and one of the report’s authors, emphasizes the CCP’s longstanding efforts to eradicate Falun Gong and destroy traditional Chinese culture. 

“The CCP has spent nearly 25 years trying to eradicate and demonize Falun Gong and even longer to destroy China’s traditional culture,” says Browde, adding, “All these efforts can be unraveled by a Shen Yun performance that showcases authentic Chinese culture, world-class artistry by talented Falun Gong practitioners, and storylines about the CCP’s deadly religious persecution.” 

He further adds, “The CCP cannot abide having its crimes exposed or its lies about Falun Gong undermined, so it is responding with an unprecedented campaign of economic coercion, fake emails, online disinformation, and even physical violence.”

Shen Yun Performing Arts is the world’s premier classical Chinese dance and music performance, bringing to life 5,000 years of traditional Chinese culture and heritage to audiences across the globe in a brand new production each year. (Image: Shen Yun Performing Arts)

Shen Yun, which is based in New York, aims not only to entertain with its immersive, visually-striking performances that showcase traditional Chinese culture and arts prior to the ravages of communism. 

The performing arts group, which currently has eight equally-sized troupes that tour and perform around the globe simultaneously, also educate audiences on important social and political issues taking place in China today — providing a unique perspective on the human spirit and the importance of not taking certain freedoms for granted. 

Strategic oppression

The 17-page brief draws on existing documentation, first-hand accounts by Shen Yun performers, Chinese government documents, news reports, and U.S. government reports. It provides the first analysis of its kind of the scope, scale, and tactics of this global CCP campaign of artistic censorship. The brief also examines its impact, democratic countries’ responses, and offers recommendations for further action by the U.S. government.

RELATED: US Lawmakers Voice Concerns Over the CCP’s Censorship of Shen Yun in South Korea

Furthermore, the report outlines the various tactics deployed by the CCP regime to undermine Shen Yun and coerce authorities from endorsing the performing arts company. These include threatening theaters and government officials with economic reprisals, sabotaging vehicles carrying Shen Yun performers, imprisoning relatives of performers in China, and organizing protests outside performance venues. 

A Chinese policeman blocks photos being taken outside Zhongnanhai which serves as the central headquarters for the Communist Party of China after the sacking of politician Bo Xilai from the countries powerful Politburo, in Beijing on April 11, 2012. (Image: MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

Another key strategy used by the CCP has been spreading disinformation and propaganda against Shen Yun and Falun Gong to undermine support among theater managers, local officials, and potential audience members, the report highlights. 

The U.S., being the base for Shen Yun and hosting numerous performances each year, has been a prime target of this campaign, the report notes. One instance saw the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrest two Chinese men in May 2023 who attempted to bribe a U.S. federal official to “topple” Shen Yun — marking one of the most audacious schemes by the CCP on U.S. soil. 

But despite these aggressive tactics, Shen Yun has expanded dramatically since 2007 — performing in over 150 cities across five continents during the 2023 season. The group’s success is largely attributed to the resilience of theater managers, owners, and government officials who have stood up against the CCP’s threats. There have been 43 incidents of such principled pushback in 19 countries, including in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, the report notes. 

“No matter who gives us pressure or threats, we will do what we think is the right thing. I am proud to have Shen Yun perform here,” said a theater representative from Arkansas after receiving a 13-page coercion letter from the Chinese consulate urging the venue to stop Shen Yun from performing in the state.